Now it's doctors' turn to learn how to use genetic testing
By Mark Johnson and Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: May 22, 2010
In January, practicing doctors and doctors-to-be entered a new class at the Medical College of Wisconsin with a futuristic name, "Translational Genetics." The idea was simpler than it sounded: We are fast approaching the time when doctors will use our genetic profiles to treat us.
One of the students was Kevin Regner, a practicing kidney doctor at Froedtert Hospital, who had been hearing for years, "Personalized medicine is just around the corner." Doctors will tailor treatments to each patient's genes and the risks they reveal. It will all be routine.
Regner had doubts. Sequencing of the first human genome in 2003 took more than a decade and cost about $600 million - an effort too herculean to assume doctors would repeat it with patients and insurance companies would foot the bill anytime soon.
But Regner was in for a surprise. As he and his classmates listened, Howard Jacob, head of the college's Human and Molecular Genetics Center, described what has happened since completion of the genome project. He showed two photos: a machine that helped sequence the first human genome in 2003, and then a machine the Medical College has today. The new model does the work of 200 of the old ones; it can sequence a human genome in a few months for several hundred thousand dollars.
And the Medical College has already ordered next-generation sequencers. Within less than a decade, a complete genetic blueprint could be attainable in 15 minutes for as little as $100.
Moreover, in a case that suggests the technology is beginning the journey from research to medical practice, Jacob described how he and his colleagues used a targeted version of gene-sequencing to diagnose and treat an apparently new disease in a young boy at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.
In the audience, Regner had a moment of recognition. "It's likely we'll see this kind of personalized medicine in my lifetime," he said, "and in the course of my medical practice."